Historical Background

    The Baroque was a time of a great intensification of past forms in all the arts: painting saw the works of Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, and El Greco -- in literature it was the time of Molière, Cervantes, Milton, and Racine -- modern science came into its own during this period with the work of Galileo and Newton. In music, the age began with the trail-blazing works of Claudio Monteverdi, continued with the phenomenally popular music of Antonio Vivaldi and the keyboard works of such composers as Francois Couperin and Domenico Scarlatti, and came to a close with the masterworks of two of the veritable giants of music history, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Baroque Age, http://www.ipl.org/exhibit/mushist/

Baroque Music, music of Europe between c. 1600 and c. 1750. Although the music across these chronological borders has features in common with the adjoining periods, the beginning of the period is marked by the stylistic and technical innovations that enabled the creation of the new genre of opera, while the end of the period is characterized by the emergence of elements of the Classical style in instrumental music and opera. The term "Baroque", which may be derived from a word signifying an irregular pearl, was applied retrospectively and originally pejoratively: from the perspective of Classical symmetry and balance, the music of the preceding period was regarded by some writers as over-exuberant and somewhat grotesque. (It is ironic that the works of the 16th-century Italian architect Palladio, which were taken as intellectual models for the Classical-period ideals of clarity and proportion, were the product of the same Italian Humanist movement that lay behind the creation of opera.) The musical developments of the Baroque period can conveniently be described in three phases, sometimes referred to as the Early, Middle, and High Baroque, which more or less coincide with 50-year divisions of the period.

Baroque Music, Donald Burrows, M. A., Ph. D., Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000